29 August 2018

Dr Bryant and Professor Bateman’s Tibet fieldwork sheds light on mega blowouts

Dr Rob Bryant, Professor Mark Bateman and visiting researcher Wanyin Lou (Lanzhou, China) recently participated in an expedition to Tibet, as part of this year’s Royal Geographical Society Thesiger-Oman award.

Tibetan prayer flags

Dr Rob Bryant, Professor Mark Bateman and visiting researcher Wanyin Lou (Lanzhou, China) recently participated in an expedition to Tibet, as part of this year’s Royal Geographical Society Thesiger-Oman award.

They travelled to the Tibetan Plateau to undertake research into enigmatic “mega-blowouts” - these huge open areas of sand are found in the middle of the grassland plateau. Once covered in grass themselves, overgrazing caused the grass to thin out, which eventually led to the soil blowing away. Once the soil has blown away revealing the sand underneath, the wind simply continues to erode these areas - some now are up to 40m deep.

Each day, the team, which also contained colleagues from UCL and Birkbeck, would drive out to examine these dunes and conduct their own research. Dr Bryant used drones to explore the dunes and blowouts, in order to create a digital elevation model of the area to understand the true size and volume of these dunes.

Professor Bateman took samples of the sand and used luminescence dating to find out exactly how old the dunes are. From this, Professor Bateman hopes to understand when the landscape started to degrade and the erosion began, in order to find out the rate of erosion over time.

The data can be used to better predict how this might cause problems to local roads and other infrastructure in the future, which could allow communities to adequately prepare for further disruption.

The UK Luminescence and ESR Meeting 2018 will be hosted by the University of Sheffield from 11-12th September 2018.

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